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The Vintner of our Incontinence...Solstice 2011
12/20/2011 2:30:13 PM
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Happy thoughts about our many joys & blessings of the holiday season, as Winter Solstice marks the completion of yet another sidereal orbit around our solar system's sun. May all your earnings & profit potentials be maximised in the coming new year!
The Vintner of our (Mental) Incontinence…Solstice 2011
It’s a frigid, foggy day outside my office, here in the State Capitol of the world’s seventh largest economy (it used to be fifth not long ago, but that’s before America’s banking communities gang-raped the public trust). I was tempted to say ‘dark-ampersand-stormy night’, since ’frigid & foggy’ just seems to somehow lack enough oomph, but frigid & foggy it is and the thick precipitate persists in dripping from the trees with an enthusiasm not unwarranted by the gloomy affect manifested. The first day of winter is a mere two days hence, but you’d never know it, given the uniformly bleak gray blanket of moody depression that tule fog frequently deposits over the entire (not-so) Great Valley of California at this time of year.
Since I was born amidst one of the state’s most famous fog banks (itself the product of San Francisco’s Potato Patch Shoals that lie just off the Golden Gate), I am naturally inclined to enjoy fog. Not all fogs are equal, however, nor are they all aesthetically enjoyable to an equal extent. Coastal (or convection) fog of the sort that lovingly smothers the Great San Francisco Bay, some are interested to learn, is completely different from the sort of nasty radiant fog generated by the agricultural fields found in the Central Valley. Whereas coastal fog tends to roll in off the ocean and later burn off at about midday with predictable regularity (revealing the delightfully life-enhancing warmth of our longitudinally inclined but still beautiful winter sun), cold, dank and thermally inverted Central Valley ‘tule fog’ likes nothing better than to accumulate under a high pressure layer and bathe the valley for days upon end, marshaling its forces of climatic misery until a dismal state of near Arctic-like chill uniformly penetrates everything with annoyingly inescapable uniformity. Only someone who has lived in both areas of this state would likely know the difference, since the hydrothermic physics of water vapor are not normally something of deeply abiding interest on the part of the average male person, whose most acute awareness of precipitation is (usually) limited to the sweat that breaks out on his brow when he gazes at the deliciously rounded protrusions of the local news channel female meteorologist’s melon-shaped breasts, lurking like large tropical high pressure ridges just under her tightly stretched sweater.
But I digress. At just about the same time every year I find myself prone to brooding upon the degenerating quality of our collective lives even more profoundly than usual…a nuance of rational reflectivity likely catalysed at least in part by the frantic marketing and manic advertising activity of commercial retailers and corporate businesses as the annual ‘keep us solvent holiday season’ draws nigh. In this it was probably also helped along by the viewing of a somewhat kitschy but heart-warming movie rendering of a late 80s recollection (by humorist Jean Shepherd about his childhood experiences) entitled ‘A Christmas Story’. The plot of this whimsical tale revolves around a pre-adolescent protagonist who plots a meticulous scheme that (he feels certain) will result in Santa’s giving him a genuine ‘Red Ryder BB gun’ (one of the truly archetypal ‘boy toys’ of the 40s and 50s period). The film, based upon Shepherd’s book ‘In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash’, reflects some of Shepherd’s youthful holiday experiences growing up in a small neighborhood of Hammond, Indiana, and in many important ways Shepherd’s uniquely folksy style of humor served as a sort of generational precursor to later, more contemporary archetypal humorists such as Garrison Keillor and Jerry Seinfeld.
Shepherd’s life and his many works, spanning a number of different entertainment and informational media venues, is a subject worthy of study in and of itself, since he had that rare ability to sense and humorously palpate the soft social underbelly of ‘regular’ American life like few others of his middle class generation. Like Norman Rockwell paintings that transport one back to an earlier, more trusting time, Shepherd’s ‘A Christmas Story’ found me waxing into a profoundly nostalgic mood as the plot unrolled, since it prompted me to reflect back to a similarly innocent period of my own 1950s childhood. This was probably not an altogether good thing, to use that hackneyed Martha Stewart catch phrase, since comparisons always are and invariably will be odious, unhappy, and productive of nothing pleasant nor commendable in the final analysis except a sense of gnawing emptiness, loss and vague dispossession.
In this particular instance it prompted me to dwell on just how miserable our American society/culture is today, collectively suffering from a status of all-pervasive unfulfillment and aesthetic torpor, an awareness spurred on and aggravated by the knowledge that almost 90% of the entire population are already so numb-minded and anaesthetized from the unrelenting brain-washing that accommodates our materialistic, consumptive way of life that they are not even mindful of the misery and social emptiness that chimerically cohabits with the reflexive daily living processes of their own lives today. In a sense it’s sort of like existing at the bottom of a thick, cold and unpleasant well of Central Valley fog; all you know down there in the anthracitic dankness is that it’s damned cold, you’re extremely disgruntled (by just about everything going on around you), and in some cases so dispirited that for two cents you’d likely kick a puppy into orbit for simply being in your way. [In using this last metaphor, I admit I am being appreciably cavalier, since few of us are that cold-hearted or that abysmally ignorant, and while general insensitivity and lack of collective social awareness has become almost a hallmark of the average American’s state of existence, profoundly uniform savage disregard and truly ignorant brutality of that sort have still not become more of a norm than an aberration in America today. And thank God (or the Celestial Pink Unicorn or the Grand Arch Druid, or whatever) for that!]
Still, it’s a spiritually damn cold and emotionally depressed America we inhabit these days, regardless of all the Pollyanna-like good deeders who predictably pop out of the woodwork about this time of year, obsessed with performing gratuitous acts of goodness and Christian charity for the less fortunate so that they can regard themselves are truly righteous worthies. In fact, if it isn’t enough to make a fellow puke outright, it’s at least enough to push one harder towards drink. And having said that word (drink), I hope you’ll forgive me as I once again deviate from my chosen topical course on a related tangent dealing with high-ETOH-content ingestible fluids.
Just this past week I stumbled across an article that concerned itself with the subject of why intelligent people tend to drink more than most others. The writer of the article proposed that there is a definite correlation between elevated IQ and the tendency to consume ETOHic beverages and I admit it was at first a bit of a stunner to consider the question on the basis of its initial merit, given a tendency most have to automatically associate drinking and drunkenness with rough types and bottom-dweller elements of the population. Reference was made to a study (yes, yet another study…) in which the IQs of individuals being tested were classified by groups ranging from one to five (‘very dull’, ‘dull’, ‘average’, ‘bright’ and ‘very bright’), with ‘average’ being an IQ of 100 to 109, ‘bright’ being an IQ of 110 to 124, and ‘very bright’ being IQs of 125 and upwards. The study then examined the percentages of individuals in each group that drank, quantifying the amount consumed and comparing the data. The results of the study in reference were irrefutably clear: the higher one’s intelligence, the greater the tendency to drink! Although one immediately flashes on the Monty Python cut titled ‘The Philosophers’ Song’, there seems to be an extremely logical and valid rationale behind the assertion that history’s greatest thinkers have also been among history’s greatest drinkers!
Although this fact might come across as a bit queer to some at first, a smidgen of reflective analysis here would likely be quite helpful in helping wrap one’s mind around that seemingly dissociated hypothesis, but at the outset recall that almost without exception the world’s greatest thinkers, philosophers and mover/shakers throughout history, from the earliest Cro Magnons (who discovered naturally fermented fruit) onwards, have been drinkers. Rarely (if ever) has someone who has had disproportionate impact upon human lives and profoundly affected the development of Western human civilization been a tea-totaller or strict non-drinker (excluding some who shun ETOH for religious reasons, of course, like Islam’s Prophet Mohammed, although I strongly suspect his hallucinations resulted from some other, as yet undiscovered biochemical indulgence). In ancient Greece drinking was elevated to both an art and a fine science, and it’s no mistake that one of the most revered Greek gods was Dionysus (or Bacchus, as the Romans knew him), but throughout history one increasingly notes (perhaps somewhat strangely at the outset) that Western Civilisation’s greatest minds were regularly well soaked in rum (or port, or gin, or whatever) between spurts of stunningly creative intellectual brilliance.
Of course, making generalized statements like this is categorically impermissible for anyone who claims to be even the least worthy proponent of traditional disciplines that adhere to strictly formatted rituals of scientific investigation, but since I am one of those recklessly carefree, eclectic, rabble-rousing social theorists who attract generalisations like a cosmic black hole attracts anything possessed of mass, I do not hesitate here to delight in this particular’s study’s findings. Further, it provokes a strong motivation to perhaps explain to some reasonable degree why, exactly, someone of higher than average intelligence would engage in oenophillic excesses. Classifying myself, under the above taxonomy, as someone at the very bottom-most rung of the ‘very bright’ category, I have always regarded drink as an important resource to be availed in my own life. Most particularly, I’ve preferentially favored red wines above any other form of fermented solution and although up until a few years ago I voluntarily shunned alcoholic drink of any kind (for health reasons), I note that I seem to now have become inclined to make up for lost time over the past decade (since hitting age 60 onwards). When I was much younger, red wine served me as the same spur to creativity that it frequently was for the bohemian cohorts of my youthful San Francisco and Berkeley days and while most preferred getting potted in the presence of others for social harmonizing (always a dangerous undertaking, given the coarse ‘herd mentality’ that tends to predominate in such circumstances), a private bottle of my favorite vintage was my preferred perfect companion for those moments when freeing one’s inhibiting restraints pleasantly coincided with a need to fly a bit closer to the sun (whatever sun happened to be in the vicinity) than usual. [Did that make me my own favorite drinking companion, I wonder? Hmm.]
Interestingly, one of the explanations offered by the researchers who conducted the study (referred to earlier) for the attraction of strong drink to those a bit more intellectually gifted than most was that among its many effects, ETOH is a great leveler. It may help to reduce the sharp edges of the overly critical or analytical mind possessed by the inordinately sensitive, and/or the profoundly empathetic…who might otherwise be driven to abject despair by the senseless, ineluctable futility of all human striving in this ‘fart-in-the-face-of-an-uncaring-Universe’ paradigm we call consciously reflective life. Included among ETOH’s many subtle effects on that immensely complex and as yet poorly understood organ called the brain, is the fact that it acts superbly as a simple chemical restraint on the so-called GABAa Inhibitor neurotransmitter . [And what, you ask, is that? Perhaps it is best refer you to what Wikipedia has to say about this biochemical component of human neurophysiology, since life without Wiki seems near impossible these days anyway, and you may do that here.] Suffice it to say that the active chemical component of ETOH serves to chemically inhibit an inhibiting (there’s a fine bit of humorous ironic phraseology for you) neurotransmitter mechanism that regulates human neurological cause-and-effect sequencing in the brain. In simpler words, it serves as a release from ordinary inhibitions. You know the sort: inhibitions that keep you from making a rude, crude and noisome ass of yourself in front of others, and certainly in instances where an individual has a somewhat lessened intellectual potential this can have a downright dangerous effect on life and limb. Conversely, in those whose intelligence is of a somewhat higher order and the outlook broader, it can serve to partly unblock far more conservative inhibitions that a more genteel sense of social appropriateness might impose.
Put another way, ETOH use by such a person may well enable a relaxation of extreme prejudice and criticality that would otherwise exert subtle if destructively adverse effects on a more highly ordered and collectively connected mind. Put a bit more roughly, it might enable Uncle Albert to tolerate having an amicable brewski with a garden variety punker more readily, since Einstein would be able to relax enough to resist categorizing the punker as a bottom-dwelling scumbag low-lifer just long enough to perceive his melancholy ‘humanity’ and perhaps even value it, rather than censure his profoundly aberrant social misanthropy with extreme bias.
I find that effect working for me occasionally when I inadvertently catch myself watching the evening news on TV, since ‘news’ these days is little more than an unending third person recitation of every single socially egregious activity that has happened in the immediate local urban environment during the past 24 hours. Depressing stories about parents who have beaten their children senseless (in meth-induced rages…or perhaps vice-versa), random drive-by or gang-related homicides and murders, new economic outrages committed by various public figures ranging from the local dog-catcher all the way up to the highest ranks of our national political leaders, moral fraud and sexual predations by religious and economic notables, and what have you. Sometimes the sheer collective emotional weight of all these collective depredations committed by man against his fellows is enough to completely exhaust a person who is burdened by an inordinately sensitive awareness of social and moral responsibility (and if that set of personality characteristics is found among one’s personal bag of affectual tricks, it’s often best to NOT sit down in front of the tube when these daily ‘news’ litanies of social excesses air).
Another individual once described this process as the balm that ‘allows bright people to suddenly find dull people tolerably amusing’, but it’s a fact that it helps make others more tolerable (no matter how intolerable they might seem when one is stone-cold sober) to individuals who are naturally prone to focus far more narrowly and critically on others as a matter of course. That it allows one to see the ‘mensch’ aspects of the human herd more agreeably is indisputable and therein precisely is one of its many benefits for me, since instead of indulging an urge to smash the television set (or worse), I can simply sit back and chuckle over the latest mass-murder, the most recent instance of racist/serial gang rape, child porn and molestation, and/or the outbreak of yet another ‘holy’ war in the Middle East (initiated by some two-bit mullah who incites the ‘faithful’ to slaughter the ‘unfaithful’). The only irksome problem is that the effect is merely temporary, and sooner or later one is clean-without-a-bean sober again, prompting a desire to return to the pre-frontal cortical comforts of GABAa inhibitor inhibiting activity. Eventually, depending upon the limitations of your body’s finely-tuned biochemical systems, one dies from the peripheral systemic effects of acute alcoholism, which is either somewhat sad (since it puts an end to all earthly pleasures) or cause for great celebration (since death is nature’s final Great Solution for all of life’s unrelenting problems). You choose.
Obviously and despite my lighthearted (but only half-insincere) defense of drinking as a method promoting tolerance of the ultra-dull by the ultra-smart, ETOH is NOT a recommended therapy for helping anyone deal with the unending stream of small defeats and little discouragements that is our collective lot in life, the sum total of which eventually kills off the strongest amongst us; but indulged in with some prudence and care (i.e. moderation), we should still manage to live to a relatively good age before kicking that final bucket and merrily clog-dancing the Texas Two-Step off this mortal coil permanently.
But I digress, as I remarked earlier; anyone familiar with my manner of stringing thoughts together knows that my writing characteristically consists of a series of loosely associated tangential excursions that eventually (well, almost always, but not always mercifully) reach the end of the intended trail. Before the last cerebral divergence infected me I was discussing Jean Shepherd’s delightful ‘A Christmas Story’ and remarking upon watching it on how effortlessly one could slip back into those ‘kinder and gentler times’ that President George Bush (the elder) made reference to at some point in his term of office.
Certainly life seemed kinder and simpler back in the late 40s and early 50s in some sense, if only because capitalist materialism hadn’t yet entirely subjugated our society by co-opting basic human sentimentality in the pursuit of profit-generating corporate business. The age of Nerds in Revolt had also not occurred yet and we weren’t back then all held in thrall (as we are today) by insidious hand-held electronic social conditioning devices, intended to turn us all into mindlessly materialistic, organic bipedal units of non-reflective economic consumption.
As the (Shepherd) story unfolded, many thoughts darted through my mind, not least of them being that as recently as the 40s there was still a strong sense of community scattered throughout the nation that today’s mass society seems increasingly to lack altogether in our new century. By ‘community’ I refer to a sense of shared commonality, purpose, background and/or experience. Back in the 40s the only holiday of any importance in America was Christmas, a formerly pagan religious festival inherited from our white Anglo-Saxon Christian forbears who adopted it and 'Christianised' it. Other religious interpretations of human salvation (aside from Judaism) were largely either ignored or not recognized, and Christianity’s Christmas ritual was the only game in town. [Note: The Jews’ Chanukah was viewed as an unfortunate peripheral distraction when it was even recognized at all and although many prominent and wealthy people in America’s power-elite circles were Jewish, their experiences in the world wisely encouraged them to keep things relatively quiet and to not draw much attention to their own spiritual holiday.]
All of that changed permanently with the successful conclusion of the Second World war, after which collective American liberal guilt over America’s tacit (head-in-the-sand) reticence to protest Germany’s ‘Final Solution’ for the European Jews spilled over to permanently assure the fact that religious freedom would henceforth be more than merely a tired old and shop-worn phrase, devoid of real meaning in our nation. Soon people were bending over backwards to make the Jews feel as if they really did matter as human beings and recognition of Chanukah blossomed forth, simultaneously catalyzing latent recognition of other beliefs and systems of religious faith. With the fait accompli that accompanied the secure establishment of the American civil rights movement (a near-coincident partner of the concurrent anti-war-movement) and feminism, the next social consciousness phase to strongly take root (and that is still flourishing today) in the US was the PC Movement (‘political correctness’). It wasn’t long before liberal intellectualism had become so rampantly riddled with PC fervency that practically the entire nation found it immensely difficult to voice any resistance or mount any opposition to anything that might be legally defined or even vaguely construed as constituting ‘racist or prejudicial bias towards any person, belief, creed or personal system of individual faith’.
What had then seemed then as merely another necessary step towards establishment of a truly free and universally democratic society (in deed, as well as in thought and idea) has since mutated into a particularly insidious and all-pervasive agent of social disintegration, as America in its PC haste to embrace everyone and everything equally has instead become simply the largest and wealthiest socially schizophrenic nation in the world. Perhaps the best evidence of this is the increasing de-emphasis of the Christian ‘Christmas’ as what was formerly a celebration of the birth of a distinctively Christian religious savior has now been diluted down to an extremely colorless and blandly generic ‘holiday season’.
“Ah!” you say, “but aren’t you an atheist?” and the answer is obvious enough that I am indeed (a person who professes disbelief in ANY anthropomorphised gods or deities of any sort that have been given virtual existence through the usual collective mix of projected mortal human fears, moral insecurities and experiential uncertainties). Still, by taking the ‘Christ’ out of Christmas we have substituted in its place a revoltingly bland, spiritually constipated and ideologically sterile occasion that may be best characterized as an annual anxiety over the who, what, where and when of the ‘occasion formerly known as Christmas’. And that, in my inestimable opinion, is a damn shame, for it simply works to the advantage of that highest three percent of our wealthy classes who own, control, manipulate and or profit from the monster of corporate capitalism that has (most recently) left the entire world in an economic shambles by virtue of its duplicitous deceits and economic dishonesty (the so-called ‘Wall Street criminals’ that have many in the nation sorely pissed-off and up in arms about). Divide and conquer! Keep ‘em dazed and confused and they’ll never throw off the shackles of economic involuntary servitude!
Quite often in the past I’ve waxed vehement about the salient (if largely unrecognized) distinctions of rigid social class order that exist in our supposedly classless, ‘free-and-equal’ nation. One of those favorite rants relates to how ‘free and equal’ has to a great extent been co-opted and driven by the powers of materialistic consumerism, a force that enables barely literate, largely unreflective and (to a great extent) dangerously ignorant individuals to acquire the superficial physical symbols of ‘wealth’ and ‘success’ that were formerly the exclusive property of the higher, wealthier classes. This effect has been brought about by letting the poorest and most ignorant members of American society mortgage their lives into penury (through credit) so that they can fool themselves into thinking that they are just as good as the most enlightened and capable members of society (who actually have wealth). While it’s an interesting manipulation on the part of the TRUE economic ‘higher-powers’ that rule the country (by controlling its material assets), the only people really fooled by this process are the fools themselves, who sit there eating their fried chicken take-outs on the leather upholstery of the most expensive Mercedes Benz they can afford to lease (with their burger-flipping incomes and grammar-school educations).
Along with this “I’m as good as you because my union-subsidised wages permit me to display expensive status symbols just like the wealthy people do” attitude is a co-consequent and symbiotic sense of social resentment that persists because all the pig’s ears in the world aren’t truly sufficient to fabricate a single silk purse. It’s one of those delightful ironies that most perfectly characterises our consumptive, material wealth obsessed culture.
Part of this false ‘free and equal’ delusion manifests itself in the logistics of our neighborhoods and communities, where people who are largely ignorant, unreflective, socially irresponsible, poorly educated and/or perhaps even morally challenged have been enabled (by our universal PC sufferage) to buy homes in any area they can successfully obtain a loan to acquire property in. And of course thanks to the deceits and frauds that sub-prime mortgage lending operated on, this meant that any given neighborhood in any community or urban area could quickly become demographically diverse to the extent that each home becomes a fortress, establishing physical separateness and assuring as little contact with anyone else as it is possible to have (despite sharing a fence between two postage stamp property carcels). When every neighborhood is so full up with individuals from often diametrically opposite origins, creeds, beliefs, faiths, attitudes and/or moral values there is little if any sense of shared community or collective mutual interest to be had; nor is any possible.
Thus, America has over the past 50 years become a nation of discrete, fragmented interests, little common or shared substance, and a nation in which it is all too easy to feel one’s self a stranger in one’s own immediate living area. None of this would have even been conceivable back in the era Jean Shepherd was writing about, when even adolescent enemies were actually ‘frenemies’ (i.e. functionally accepted parts of the community that regularly interacted with the whole settlement).
Today, this process of segmenting, disintegrating and diffusing the identity and self and collective worth of individuals continues at an ever-quickening pace, thanks largely to the fact that the entire nation is now entirely socialized by means of artificially contrived and deviously distorted social models that are merely two-dimensional (i.e visual media, usually televised, whether for marketing or for entertainment purposes) virtual simulacra. As corporate marketing and American materialism continues (under our vaunted system of ‘capitalistic democracy’) to convert the entire nation’s population into little more than commercially malleable segments of consumer market shares, the genuinely warm and spiritually meaningful core of such customs as the ‘traditional Christmas’ has all but vanished into thin air. Instead of gaining spiritual strength from the hope for universal, humane suffrage that one’s favored savior seemed to promise at holiday time, and celebrating the universal importance of peace, mutual tolerance and broadened understanding throughout the world, we have instead had substituted in our hearts and minds the message that our primary holiday duty is to spend enough of our income to assure that the 80% of our GNP that supports our economy continues to expand.
It’s very likely a good bet that hardly anyone does much more than cluck their tongue briefly when confronted by such unhappy realities, for if they truly reflected upon the larger ramifications to be dwelt upon therein, they’d probably be so depressed that they’d want to jump off the nearest tall building and put an end to all this moral and economic perversity once and for all. Hah-hah. As if THAT would ever happen…with 1% new car loans being offered to the consuming public with no interest payable for three years as a special holiday incentive to buy, buy, buy (actually, to lease, lease, lease...but hurry! Offer available for a limited time only!).
Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Person and when he isn’t wearing a fake white beard, feeding children’s popular seasonal delusions about traditional holiday fables and helping socialise future consumers, he works as a senior CEO for Lehman Brothers, Merrill-Lynch, or any of thousands of parasitical Wall Street brokerages and financial institutions that have collectively dismembered America’s moral and spiritual integrity under the perverse banners of American capitalistic democracy!
And if that ain’t enough to make you puke, Virginia (or at least push you further towards committing ETOHic suicide), I don’t know what could be (except possibly the announcement of a new world-wide religious cult that announces they’ve had a revelation that the Son of God was actually a bisexual female hermaphrodite Daughter of God, with psychotic/schizoid tendencies).
As the ‘day formerly known as Christmas’ rolls around, I will be here in Sacramento (instead of on Molokai), suffering through yet another tule fog, so I’ll cluster my personal wolf-pack of fluffy Siberian Huskies about my feet (better than sheepskin booties, you see), crack open a special bottle of Swiss Rhone Valley Dole I’ve been saving for several years, and reflect back somewhat bemusedly on the uncomplicated days of my own preadolescent childhood, when I was still under the influence of the Christian Anglican Church (and probably still believed in Santa Person, too).
As the pagan Romans would put it (in Latin) amidst some undoubtedly wild debaucheries and assorted unimaginably revolting celebratory excesses: Io Saturnalia! Beatum Annum Novum!
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